We reviewed neural control and biomechanical description of gait in both non-disabled and post-stroke subjects. In addition, we reviewed most of the gait rehabilitation strategies currently in use or in development and observed their principles in relation to recent pathophysiology of post-stroke gait.
In both non-disabled and post-stroke subjects, motor control is organized on a task-oriented basis using a common set of a few muscle modules to simultaneously achieve body support, balance control, and forward progression during gait.
Hemiparesis following stroke is due to disruption of descending neural pathways, usually with no direct lesion of the brainstem and cerebellar structures involved in motor automatic processes. Post-stroke, improvements of motor activities including standing and locomotion are variable but are typically characterized by a common postural behaviour which involves the unaffected side more for body support and balance control, likely in response to initial muscle weakness of the affected side.
Various rehabilitation strategies are regularly used or in development, targeting muscle activity, postural and gait tasks, using more or less high-technology equipment. Reduced walking speed often improves with time and with various rehabilitation strategies, but asymmetric postural behaviour during standing and walking is often reinforced, maintained, or only transitorily decreased. This asymmetric compensatory postural behaviour appears to be robust, driven by support and balance tasks maintaining the predominant use of the unaffected side over the initially impaired affected side.
Based on these elements, stroke rehabilitation including affected muscle strengthening and often stretching would first need to correct the postural asymmetric pattern by exploiting postural automatic processes in various particular motor tasks secondarily beneficial to gait.